It's a fact: a truly impressive back is about as rare as a balanced state budget or a Lindsay Lohan sighting outside a police car.
Why is that?
For one reason, it seems that Monday is worldwide chest and biceps day in any gym on this planet. Motivation then quickly falls apart, the scheduled back day on Wednesday is often skipped in favor of the breaking bad marathon and don't remind me about legs on Friday.
But then there are people who do train their back and still do not have much to show for. It is for those I sacrificed my Sunday afternoon and wrote this piece.
Here is your eight point guide to build a massive back.
How to Build a Massive Back and Lats
#1 - Your Back Is Larger
You should realize that your back makes up about one third of your body's muscle mass. This means you need to do twice, maybe even three times as many sets of pulling than pressing.
There are also way more muscles in the back (56) than in the chest (2). And yet the ratio of bench press vs pull ups is most likely around 8, which explains the many forward-hunched Neanderthal physiques you see in gyms all over the country. But I digress.
#2 - Learn How to Pull
Forget what you know about pulling. Most people's back workout is actually a really heavy biceps day, not so much a back day. Here are some pointers for a proper pull.
- Every rep starts from the shoulder blades; they go backwards before the arm even bends.
- If possible, use an overhanded grip to exclude the biceps from the motion. If you do an underhanded pull, make sure to get a good 2 inches of movement from the shoulder blades, before involving the arms.
- Focus on your elbow going toward the ribcage, not the wrist. Focusing on the wrist will make the pull much more forearm/biceps oriented.
- Use a light grip. Most trainees grip the bar/ dumbbell extremely tight when pulling, which again leads to an overemphasis on the forearms and biceps. I would recommend to use a very light 3 finger hold for the first sets. This will enable you to establish a proper mind-muscle connection for the exercise. For the heavy sets, you might still grab the bar for all that it's worth.
#3 - Split Your Back Training
Split your back. Not literally with an ax but you should consider having one full day for training your back and one partial during your chest or shoulder day. I for one find it tough to do heavy rows and deadlifts during the same day, but maybe I am just wimpy.
#4 - Add Pulling on Press Day
This point somewhat overlaps with the previous one but one easy way to add more volume for the back is simply to perform one set of pulls after each sets of presses. This will enable you to grow your back more and keep your shoulders happy and healthy. My personal favorite combos are: incline bench and pull ups and military press with face pulls or low rope rows.
#5 - Do Deadlifts
I shouldn't even have to write this but just to be clear: in order to build an impressive back (or physique for that matter) you must pick up heavy stuff from the floor. It even works with the current craze of "functional training", since improving your ability to move heavy items off the ground is about as functional as it gets (or at least a close second to the overhead press).
#6 - Use Lifting Straps
To strap or not to strap. Steve Shaw will probably fire me for this one but I do think that straps have a place in training for bodybuilding. It is simple: your forearms are smaller than your lats, so they will give out earlier.
This does not mean you should use straps all the time or even wear them on the treadmill, but they can be helpful during the heaviest sets or toward the end of a back workout. Straps, used properly, will enable you to focus entirely on the back and not having to worry about your forearms failing.
#7 - Do Pull Ups Every Day
Yes, you heard me. Some of my biggest gains came when I started each workout with 50 pullups. I would vary my grip either each set or each day. In addition, I was training in different gyms at the time so each one had a different set up.
In short, there is nothing better for lats, biceps, forearms, rear delts even abs than the good old fashioned pull up. I was also around 245 lbs around that time, so that was fun.
#8 - Do Stiff Arm Pull Downs (Right)
Do stiff arm pulldowns, but do them right. The stiff arm pull down can be used as a finish movement to fully exhaust the lats or in the beginning of the workout to establish a proper mind- muscle connection.
Stand about shoulder wide, slight knee bend, grab the bar one inch away from your ac joint. Have the palms resting lightly on the bar, eland with slightly bend elbows bring the bar all the way to your legs while the head stays in a neutral position.
That is it from my end, let me know how things go.
Hey I weighed 84 kg then I did crash dieting for 3 month I got pretty leaner very quickly but now I have been working out since 6 month but I m finding it hard to gain muscles n after crash diet now resuming to my previous diet I have also started to gain fat around my belly n sides how can I gain muscle now when anything isn't working in favour
Julian, muscles recover within 48 hours, so you can do them every training day. Plenty of athletes train the same muscle every day (speed skaters quads are huge). IMO the one day per week thing is nonsense and counterproductive.
So you're not saying to do pull ups seven days a week, but every training day depending on your training schedule. Right?
#7 - Do Pull Ups Every Day? What about recovery and muscle building time? Everything I read says to give rest days, but is it better to just go for it then? Thanks.
Really good tips.thanks
Hi, i have a question about the whole pull ups everyday thing, shouldnt you give some time for the torn muscle to recover, even with various grips some of the same muscles must be used with every pull up? Also would you recommend it before a bicept work out or just mix them together when i want to do either? I really want to start doing this but would like your opinion on this thanx allot!!
HI John, that is how I train actually. works fine for me, just vary exercises, rep speed etc
Thanks for the response! A lot of your tips have helped me hit goals and get the results I want, so I will definitely try this split in a super/Giant set format for a while.
I am starting a 3 day Giant sets workout for the summer, 3-4 exercises per giant set. Trying to figure out a good split. I like splitting chest and back into two times a week. Would this be a good split along some of your tips for a big back here?
Day 1 - 4 exercises Chest and Shoulders, 3-4 Back
Day 2 or 3 - Legs - at least 4-6 exercises, Arms - 2-3 exercises each
Day 4 or 5 - repeat Chest and Shoulders, Back, with similar volume but different exercises
Want to keep flexibility but still get results, trying to cut a little and keep muscle obviously. Does this split look ok?